December 5, 2013

The Rafiki ProjectShadey is a community champion on the Rafiki project.

What is the aim of the Rafiki project in your words?

To end stigma, prejudice and discrimination people of colour face on a day to day basis because they are unfortunate to suffer from a mental illness, ‘rafiki’ would like to able to teach, assist, and encourage African and Caribbean people without mental illness how to interact with those that do and visa-versa.

Rafiki's vision is to train volunteers to become champions, (people with lived experience of mental illness and those without) to go out within their community to befriend African and Caribbean people with experience of mental illness.

African and Caribbean people with experience of mental illness face being scorned, feeling ashamed, and being ridiculed on a daily basis by their own race as well as other races regularly.

The thought and feeling that someone on a regular basis wants to encourage and listen to someone with experience of mental illness, would more than likely inspire them to face challenges in a positive way.

The stigma of mental illness within the black community can exacerbate ones illness.

Why did you get involved with the project?

I got involved in the project because I felt my calling and career was going to be within a therapeutic or counselling field because I found through my travels, on route to life, no matter where I was or who I was with, I had the ability to comfort others, or make them feel better with what they were going through.

I found that if I could speak to someone make them feel better about a situation, without lying or patronising them, it made me feel good about myself and a worthy person.

The project is offering me hands on training, experience in leadership, encouragement and fees for academic training at a community college.

Why do you think it is important to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination?

I think it is important because fashion, music, art and knowledge evolves probably a zillion times from one decade to the next, it gets better. Discrimination and stigma should not exist, but, point blank it does, so consistently talking about it and educating others about the problem will eventually eradicate fear, discrimination and stigma from one generation to the next.

I think, hope and pray for the future generation that stigma and discrimination can eventually be a thing of the past.

What is your role within the project?

My role in the project is set up therapeutic group sessions for African and Caribbean people with or without mental health issues to interact with each other, inspire and empower one another. My groups will be poetry groups, exercise and dance groups. One of my future ideas is to set up a sewing group which I will teach.

Do you think the project is making a difference changing the public’s attitude to people with mental health problems? If so how can you tell?

In a sense I would have to say yes. At this moment in time the project is at a babies teething stage, in this short space of time I can say that at Lewisham’s people’s day, at the Time to Change stall a lot of people were interested in what we had to say regarding breaking down barriers, stigma and discrimination.

I do feel and believe that the project will have an impact on the public’s attitude towards people with experience of mental illness, because as champions, our goal is to educate the public on what it feels like to suffer from an illness.

Whilst training to be a champion at the rafiki project, I was the one of the few students within the class who had lived in experience by having a mental illness. I was able to share with the group my experience of having various mental health issues and I found it to be rewarding because most of the group were not aware that it could be a positive experience and I was able to share good and bad points. They were openly interested and surprised by what I had to say and within the group it felt rewarding to me that I was able to answered questions regarding mental illness and breaking down some of the discrimination, stigma’s and taboos

What have you got personally got out of the project?

My confidence and abilities have been encouraged especially being able to share my lived in experience. I have found that I have hidden talents; I have met and become friends with beautiful people with warm personalities.

What will you do next?

I shall continue to work for the rafiki project for experience as well as to witness the growth of the project. I will continue to gain some academic qualifications with the counselling field as well as health and social care, so that I can get qualified enough to gain paid employment within the counselling field. I also want to help others to be empowered through mine and their own life experiences.

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